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Dewsall Cemetery

HER no. 31920

Dewsall, a small parish of 250 hectares situated 7.5km south-south-west of Hereford, is on the edge of an area known as Archenfield. Archenfield is the anglicised form of Ergyng, the British Kingdom which occupied southern Herefordshire from the 6th or 7th century.

The site of the cemetery appears to lie within an oval enclosure of some 3.5 hectares, which also includes Dewsall Court and Dewsall parish church. This enclosure was bisected by a stream which runs in a shallow valley. The parish church and graveyard lie on the opposite side of the valley from Dewsall Court.
In 2001 a trench dug for a swimming pool at Dewsall Court disturbed four graves containing articulated human skeletons and three features interpreted as graves with disarticulated bone. One group of the disarticulated bone had been disturbed by 19th century wall footings as well as the swimming pool trench. Other human bones were recovered from the spoil heap and from earth around the edge of the cutting. Six of the graves found were aligned east-west.

Bones from two separate graves were radiocarbon dated to AD 650-890. A thick layer of charcoal from below a third and apparently within the grave gave a date of AD70-450. This grave had been cut by a later one.

The minimum number of individuals present was eleven. All four identifiable skeletons were adults. At least one of the other skeletons was a child (of 2 to 4 years of age) and one was an adolescent of 12 to 20 years old. Both male and female bones were present. Although only eleven burials were uncovered it is likely that the cemetery contained significantly more individuals, as only an area of 104 square metres was excavated.

The original slope of the ground had been terraced at some date after the cemetery went out of use.

The fact that the burials were on an east-west alignment and contained no grave goods does not necessarily indicate that they were Christian burials, as interments with these characteristics but dated to the prehistoric and early post-Roman periods have been recorded elsewhere. Dewsall lies in a triangle between Madley, Moccas and Llanfrother, which are presumed to be sites of early monasteries. The cemetery at Dewsall may have been in use from the 3rd to the 9th centuries.

In the light of these discoveries it was decided that the swimming pool would not be built, the area instead being made into a sunken garden.

Due to the fact that the original slope had been terraced, the sample of human remains discovered (a minimum total of eleven individuals) can only represent burials in about 70% of the 104 square metres excavated. This density would theoretically mean the possibility of upwards of 5,000 burials within the curvilinear enclosure of some 3.5 hectares. If the pre-Conquest population of Dewsall were higher than the historical known one, 5,000 would not be an improbable figure. A population of 250 could be expected to result in this number of burials over an 800 year period.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005, using information taken from Huw Sherlock and P.J. Pikes, "The First Millennium Cemetery at Dewsall Court, Herefordshire: An Interim Report", Archenfield Archaeology Report AA/01/30, 2002]


Last Updated: 05/03/2013 11:44:45